What next for Mercedes and Hamilton after bleak start to F1 2023?
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Will Mercedes’ struggles continue?After a disappointing start to F1 2023, Mercedes will be looking to improve in Saudi Arabia. Why Mercedes car concept needs to CHANGEVideo of Why Mercedes car concept needs to CHANGEMercedes had a huge performance deficit to the front at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix and appear no closer to winning races or getting back into title contention, something that will be hugely frustrating for Lewis Hamilton in his bid to claim a record eighth drivers’ crown. Hamilton could only manage fifth in Bahrain, over 50 seconds behind Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, while teammate George Russell finished seventh as Mercedes made another poor start. The seven-time world champion, who is out of contract at the end of the year and yet to sign a new deal with Mercedes, criticised his team for not listening to him over the development of their 2023 car.
With Toto Wolff admitting Mercedes made a mistake in continuing to pursue their ‘zero sidepod’ concept following a torrid 2022 campaign, the team once again appear to find themselves on the back foot. Mercedes are planning to bring a major upgrade early in the season but those revisions won’t come in time for this weekend’s race in Saudi Arabia. Until developments arrive, it looks set to be a case of ‘damage limitation’ for the German manufacturer. Jeddah is expected to suit the W14 better than Bahrain and so a step forward in competitiveness could come, but Mercedes look miles away from challenging Red Bull and may find themselves behind Ferrari and Aston Martin once again. Can Verstappen be stopped? Reigning world champion Verstappen was in a league of his own in Bahrain as he kicked off his 2023 title defence in crushingly dominant style to lead home a Red Bull one-two. Related Red Bull back down over Aston Martin ‘copying’ remarks Is Verstappen F1’s modern-day Senna? Bold claim madeSuch was Red Bull’s level of superiority in Bahrain that some even suggested Verstappen could go on to win all 23 races this year. Red Bull had no real challenge in Bahrain, with Charles Leclerc running a distant third before his Ferrari gave up on him, while Aston Martin and Mercedes were too far back to pose any sort of threat. Things may be different at the high-speed Jeddah street circuit, where the strengths of Ferrari’s SF-23 should come into their own.
Ferrari’s gap to Red Bull in Bahrain was partly exacerbated by struggles with tyre degradation, however, that may not be as big a concern for the Scuderia around the less-demanding Jeddah track. Despite Ferrari’s troubled start to the year, Verstappen remains wary and is refusing to underestimate Red Bull’s rival. “Jeddah is going to be quite different,” he said. “Our car, it seems quite strong in high-speed, but I think Ferrari is quite quick on the straight, which in Jeddah, of course, is very nice to have, let’s say it like that.”The Dutchman added: “Saudi is quite a different track to this one, you have a lot more straights, fast corners, and a lot less deg. And I think here we were particularly good on the deg. So I do expect in terms of race pace that everyone is closer in Jeddah.”Another podium for Alonso? Behind the Red Bull whitewash, Fernando Alonso stole the show with a brilliant charge to the podium on his Aston Martin debut. The 41-year-old rolled back the years with a pair of sublime overtakes on Hamilton’s Mercedes and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz on his way to finishing ‘best of the rest’ in third behind the dominant Red Bulls.
Alonso was in phenomenal form and produced a starring drive in the second-fastest car at F1’s 2023 opener to underline the pre-season hype surrounding Aston Martin following an incredible turnaround by ‘Team Silverstone’ over the winter. Given Aston Martin had the pace to challenge and beat both Mercedes and Ferrari in a straight fight in Bahrain, we wouldn’t rule out another rostrum appearance for the wily Alonso in Saudi Arabia. More misery for McLaren? McLaren endured a horrible start to the season with Oscar Piastri forced into an early retirement due to an electrical issue and Lando Norris nursing a pneumatics problem which resulted in him pitting six times on his way to a last-place finish, more than two laps down on Verstappen. “4Expectations for McLaren had already been lowered before a wheel was turned when new team principal Andrea Stella admitted the team was “not entirely happy” with their launch-spec car, before CEO Zak Brown revealed the team had missed some development targets over the winter. But following a tough pre-season test, things went from bad to worse for McLaren during a miserable opening race weekend. McLaren are convinced that all is not lost for 2023 but until new developments are introduced on the MCL60 as the year goes on, the Woking outfit are bracing themselves for a real challenge. Will their bleak start continue in Saudi Arabia?
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